More than half a century ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of a coming "postreligious" era. In his 1965 landmark bestseller, The Secular City, theologian Harvey Cox embraced secularization as a healthy and necessary corrective to the excesses of religious zeal.
The history of the American heartland sometimes appears as little more than a bloody farrago of killing which, in the God-soaked vocabulary of the perpetrators, must be understood not as murder, but as something inevitable and even holy. This tradition persists long after the Native American resistance to European settlers was put down by settlers and soldiers certain of providential favor.
In the most vivid of all Amish urban legends, three bonneted women from Lancaster County enter the elevator of a New York City skyscraper. Just before the doors close, a huge black man, accompanied by a Doberman straining at the end of a leash, boards the elevator with them and in a commanding tone says a single word: "Sit!" Without hesitation the Amish women collapse on the floor at his feet.